A leader’s good reputation is not built by an individual, impressive moment, but rather by consistent and consecutive impressive moments. It is these moments that frame who we believe our leader to be; it is these moments that filter our perception, and if a leader has stayed true to who he said he is, and who we believe him to be, then we are willing to follow and defend him.
But what happens when a leader, who has had so many consistent moments of greatness, has a moment of failure? Our society and culture today are those of extremes, we acquit or execute all before the trial. However, that is the price of leadership. Right or wrong a leader’s hard-fought reputation is undone with a single action. Just look at both Cam Newton and Peyton Manning for examples.
All year long Cam Newton was a one man highlight reel. Giving children touch down footballs, having a different dance or handshake for each task accomplished, or even his victorious “dab.” The media couldn’t get enough of him, and fans ate up every moment of his flash and swagger. Cam Newton’s Panthers stroll to Super Bowl 50 with a regular season record of 15 and 1, and have the NFL’s most electrifying offense, one the Media has dubbed, Cam’s offense. And then the unthinkable happens, the man who has a dance for every occasion is left with out a reason to boogie. For most fan’s outside of the Carolina’s, they’re OK with that. Cam is a young quarterback and has plenty of time to win the big game – and Manning gets to go out, presumably, on top. Fast forward through all of the confetti and awkward Bud references to the post game interviews. Cam, who has been all smiles all season, has no reason to smile. He has lost. He came ever so close, and lost. Bombarded with questions about his decisions through out the game and why his team couldn’t win, Cam just gets up, announces he is done, and walks out. In this moment, every dance move, every football tossed to a kid, and every smile flashed after a game are all forgotten. Cam’s inability to “Man Up” and face the hard questions have now defined his entire season.
The other Super Bowl 50 quarterback had a different post game experience. Peyton Manning, thought of as one of the classiest players in the NFL lived up to that expectation. Every reporter who spoke with Manning as soon as the game was finished asked the same question: “are you going to retire,” and rather than make that moment about him and his legacy, Manning politely excused the question and put the focus back on his Denver Bronco team mates. It wasn’t until a week after Super Bowl 50 that an allegation against Peyton Manning, while he was in college that had seemingly been buried, started to resurface. Allegations of sexual abuse, slander, lying, and bullying – all from the NFL’s perfect Peyton. No one is asking if Manning will retire, the only question anyone is asking is “can this be true?” “is this really our Peyton Manning?”
Whether a public moment for all of the world to see at the end of your season, or a private moment at the beginning of your career – all it takes is one moment to tarnish the reputation you spent a season, or even a career, building.